Young mothers’ experiences of stigma in early and unintended pregnancy (EUP).
Korving, Ciara Gwyn.
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This research explored young mothers’ experiences of stigma in early and unintended pregnancy (EUP) in a localised South African context. It explored the impact of social judgement on the emotional coping, and identities of the teenage mothers, as well as the sources and consequences of such stigma. Convenience sampling, combined with snowball sampling, was used to identify nine participants from a geographical neighbourhood in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Data was collected from in-depth interviews. These were analysed using thematic analysis, aimed at identifying main and sub-themes relating to the emotional coping experiences that speak to the topic of stigma and perceived judgement, shame and blame. Findings confirmed an experience of internalised judgement and stigma directed towards the self around the EUP, as well as perceived judgement and stigmatising by others in some form. Common dimensions of judgement and stigma included consequential feelings of abandonment, isolation and a fear of disclosure; the impact of the socio-economic environment on the nature of the stigma; and reference was made to the reason and source of stigma, and a process of acceptance and meaning making of the experience of EUP. The significant incongruencies in terms of the polarised attitudes towards EUP are indicative of the complexity of the societal attitudes, judgements and stigma, with those that view it in a very negative light, and others who are largely accepting and supportive. While not always the case, in general the younger generation appears to be more accepting of teenage pregnancy, whereas the older generation tends to impose much harsher judgement. There also appeared to be polarised reasons for social judgement. Some of the participants expressed feeling judged because of being pregnant as a teenager, but contrastingly other participants expressed that they felt judged by certain members of the community for not having a child. Due to the high incidence of EUP, teenage pregnancy is regarded by many as acceptable and even expected. For some, not having a child elicits scepticism. For others, a child is seen as a positive societal status and for some pregnancy represents security with the partner and demonstrates fertility, a culturally desirable attribute. Despite the challenges, harsh environmental circumstances and stigma experienced, many of the stories contain elements of self-growth and positive outcomes, with the child providing a new focus and vision for the future. The study highlighted the social disempowerment experienced by young mothers as a result of their socio-emotional circumstances and the need for ongoing support of teenage mothers in South Africa.